On June 28, 1969, in the late hours of the night, a routine police raid of a gay bar called Stonewall Inn sparked the fire that fueled the first wave of the Gay Pride Movement in NYC. On the evening of the raid, approximately 200 people occupied the bar. Located at 53 Christopher Street, in Greenwich Village, the bar became home to many types of society outcasts: gay men, drag queens, the transgendered, members of the mafia, hustlers and homeless youths. At approximately 2 AM, the New York Police Department (NYPD) arrived to clear out the bar. Initially, most patrons were cooperative, left the bar as instructed and waited patiently as the police arrested several mafia members inside. Within a few minutes, police began asking for identification. Female officers escorted cross-dressing individuals to the restrooms to verify their sex, which led to several arrests. After seeing several gay men and women being arrested, the crowd gathered outside of the bar became increasingly agitated. As more patrol vehicles arrived, they began shouting at the officers: “Gay Power!” “We shall overcome!” People started throwing pennies and empty beer bottles at police vehicles. Inside the bar some people were being beaten by the cops. One women arrested was hit over the head by a police officer with a billy club. She encited the crowd into action by asking them to “Do Something!” And within minutes the raiding of Stonewall escalated into a full-blown riot.
Before the infamous riot at Stonewall, police raids targeting gay bars were a commonplace occurrence. However, the Stonewall uprising was the first one to create such a powerful reaction. The N.Y. State Liquor Authority would often refuse to give liquor licenses to bars catering to gay customers. This was one of the reasons why gay bars were such an easy target for police. Often times, unlicensed bars like Stonewall attracted mafia bosses who would pay off cops in exchange for accord. It was said that Stonewall was raided because the mafia bosses had failed to take this precaution. However, Stonewall was unlike most NYC gay bars and the fact that it was a preferred destination made it harder for patrons to give up. For example, the large numbers of drag queens that frequented Stonewall were usually unwelcomed most other places. Stonewall also attracted those who could not afford to go to other more expensive bars; the entry fee for the night was only three dollars. Many youths that visited Stonewall were runaways and many even homeless. They hung around Christopher Street, hustling or panhandling for money. During evening hours, they lived at Stonewall as if it was their home.
During the 1960's, people had become more aware of the culture of discrimination and intolerance that surrounded gays. The African-American civil rights movement was at its height and the Vietnam War dragged on even as it became increasingly unpopular. Civil resistance exhibited by African-Americans and those who protested the Vietnam War, encouraged many to become more outspoken. This rich political climate gave power to people whose marginalized voices needed to be heard, and was one of many reasons the Stonewall raid eventually turned into a riot. Within a year of the event, two gay rights organizations were formed, and in 1970 several gay pride parades took place in major cities around the country.
Now, every year, on the last Sunday of June, NYC celebrates the Gay Pride Parade. It is one of the most heavily participated and attended parades in New York, exceeded only by the St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Stonewall event marked the beginning of the nationwide Gay Pride movement.